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13 Scary Things for Friday the 13th

Today is Friday the 13th, a day widely seen as unlucky and spooky by the superstitious among us. At the Project On Government Oversight, what we find really scary is waste, fraud, abuse, and law-breaking within the federal government. Here’s a list of the 13 scariest things POGO has shed light on and is working to change:

  1. Illegal retaliation against whistleblowers. Whistleblowers are often the first line of defense against waste, fraud, and abuse. They shine the light on government wrongdoing that is harmful to the American public, and such disclosures help save taxpayer dollars, prevent loss of life, and curb abuses. When given adequate protections from retaliation by supervisors, they would rather report it internally than go to the media. However, this isn’t their reality. Whistleblowers are still targeted by government officials for their disclosures. Read POGO’s recommendations for improving whistleblower protections.
  2. White House Chief of Staff’s cell phone may have been hacked. Chief of Staff John Kelly reported this summer that his phone had not been working properly for months. If his phone security was breached, it may have given hackers or foreign governments access to sensitive information.
  3. Mismanaged nuclear arsenal. The United States has over 1,700 strategic and deadly nuclear warheads deployed at bases across the globe, with thousands more in storage plus thousands more intact and awaiting dismantlement. An effort that began under then-President Obama and continues under President Trump to modernize these weapons is unnecessary, mismanaged by the NNSA, and expensive: it will cost taxpayers over $1 trillion over the next 30 years.
  4. Thirteen vacant Inspector General offices. Inspectors General play a critical role in reducing waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal government—saving taxpayers an estimated $17 for every $1 invested in an IG office. Ethics watchdogs need independence, investment, and leadership to hold the government accountable. Check out POGO’s “Where Are All the Watchdogs?” vacancy tracker.
  5. Foreign governments paying American lobbyists. Lobbyists who work on behalf of foreign clients are required to disclose a significant amount of information about their activities under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)—unfortunately, it’s hardly enforced. Read POGO’s recommendations for FARA.
  6. Federal contractors’ investment in lobbying and election activities. The federal government's 100 largest contractors received an incredible return on their investment in lobbying and election contributions in fiscal year 2016, spending just $289 million on political influence but receiving more than $262 billion in federal business. The median return on investment for these companies was $1,323 in contracts for every $1 spent on federal lobbying and election activities. These contractors have repaid the public with over 2,300 instances of misconduct since 1995. Dive into misconduct data with POGO’s Federal Contractor Misconduct Database.
  7. Billions of wasted dollars on the F-35. The F-35 may never be combat-ready. When the tab for all the aircraft purchased in an immature state is added up, the total comes to nearly $40 billion. That is a lot of money to spend on training jets and aircraft that will simply be stripped for spare parts. Read POGO’s in-depth report on the F-35.
  8. Allegations of widespread slave labor at ICE detention centers. A class-action lawsuit alleges that detainees are coerced into participating in voluntary work programs under threat of being thrown into solitary confinement, and are either unpaid or receive $1 per day for their labor.
  9. “Zombie” Pentagon wish list items that are resurrected year after year. Extra add-ons to the Pentagon budget represent tens of billions of dollars in unneeded spending, and funding such add-ons outside normal channels can lead to an unbalanced military force.
  10. Surveillance program that puts Americans’ privacy and civil liberties at risk. The most recently introduced reauthorization of Section 702 of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows an exception for foreign intelligence searches with an overly broad definition of such searches, which could violate Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights to protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
  11. Less oversight of military weapons given to police forces. More than $6 billion worth of surplus military gear, including weapons and armored vehicles, has made it into the hands of state and local police departments, as well as federal law enforcement partners, according to the Defense Logistics Agency. The Trump administration has removed some restrictions—including important oversight measures—on this program. POGO has called for more oversight.
  12. Twenty-six federal agencies provided no ethics waivers relating to political appointees in the Trump administration. Without official information detailing how those political appointees are handling potential conflicts involving their former employers and clients, we have concerns about whether government decisions are being made in the public’s interest. Read POGO’s blog on the importance of transparent ethics processes.
  13. Generals paid by foreign governments. Documents obtained by POGO name seven retired officers—including the Secretary of Defense and the President’s Chief of Staff—who sought and obtained permission from the Marine Corps to be paid to work on behalf of foreign governments and companies after they retired. However, these documents were only brought to light by POGO’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. High-ranking military officers are regularly called on by Congress to provide advice on national security issues with the assumption that their sole loyalty is to the interests of the United States. It should be clear to policymakers and the public if their advice may be influenced because they are receiving money from or have had previous professional relationships with foreign governments.

Want more? Check out POGO’s 13 Suggested Congressional Oversight Priorities and Legislative Reforms for 2017.